CLEVELAND – A Northeast Ohio man has returned home after a trip to South Africa that coincided with the death of Nelson Mandela.
“When I landed, after a 16-hour flight, the very first thing the pilot said when we touched the ground was that Nelson Mandela had passed away and there were gasps and sighs throughout the airplane,” said Keith Benjamin from Bratenahl.
Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and anti-apartheid leader, died on December 5 at the age of 95.
“It is the end of 95 glorious years of a freedom fighter, a dedicated and humble servant of the people of South Africa,” said South African President Jacob Zuma at Mandela’s memorial service.
For many, Mandela was considered the father of the ‘new’ South Africa and according to Benjamin, it was emotional and uplifting to be in the region as millions celebrated his life.
“People were bringing flowers, signs and notes and laying them at statues of Mandela that are down at the waterfront,” said Benjamin, who snapped dozens of pictures and recorded video of people dancing in the streets in the days following his death.
Mandela’s message of reconciliation, not vengeance, inspired the world after he negotiated a peaceful end to segregation and urged forgiveness for the white government that imprisoned him.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison," Mandela said after he was freed in 1990.
Benjamin said the experience in South Africa was enlightening and he hopes Mandela’s legacy continues to have a positive impact on people around the world.
“I still think that there are issues - obviously in South Africa - where they are still dealing with issues of discrimination and prejudice and obviously. We’re still dealing with those issues here in our country,” said Benjamin. “But I think that we can take those lessons that Mandela has taught us and use those for the betterment of all of society.”